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How to clean your car with a pressure washer

Cleaning your car with a pressure washer

By Manette Kaisershot

Article 1 of 2

Tips to help you wash your car quickly and safely with a pressure washer.

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Step-by-step to pressure washing your car 


Rinse off the top layer of grit and grime

If you're using a machine with a variable jet spray, adjust it to a spray of approximately 5-8cm wide. 

You want the spray to be strong enough to clean the car but not to damage the paintwork. 

You will need to use a slightly wider and less powerful setting for the windows, lights and other fragile areas.


Apply a detergent

Set the pressure washer nozzle to the widest and least powerful setting - or remove it altogether - to coat the entire car in a layer of detergent. 

Let it work its magic for a few moments, but don't let it dry or you'll be left with blemishes that will have to be buffed out later.


Loosen the most stubborn dirt and grease

Use an attachable car brush to make the job quicker. 

If you're using the same one to clean the wheels and wheel arches, as well as the paintwork, do the wheel areas last.

When cleaning the wheels or wheel arches there's more chance of the brush picking up small stones and grit, and you don't want to be rubbing these against the paint. 

Rinse the brush thoroughly once you've finished using it to make sure all grit is removed.


Rinse the car off with a high-pressure jet setting

Again, using a slightly stronger setting for the paint than the glass areas. 

If you don't have a variable nozzle to adjust the power and width of the spray, just stand further away from the car - one metre should be a safe distance to prevent any damage.

To see our top pressure washers, including the best for cleaning a car, visit our Top five pressure washers page. 

Useful pressure washer features for car cleaning 

  • Find a pressure washer with a long hose (at least 5m long), so you don't have to move it around the car. 
  • Choose one with wheels to make it easier if you do need to move the pressure washer. 
  • Choose a pressure washer with variable jet nozzle settings. This will make it much safer to clean different parts of the car without causing any damage.
  • Get a pressure washer with a nozzle attachment that allows you to change the direction of the spray. An angled nozzle can direct water upwards so you can clean inside the wheel arches.
  • Try to find a washer with an attachable foamer bottle, as this is easier to use than a container that you have to carry around with you.

Visit our pressure washer reviews to find out what features each pressure washer offers.

Dos and Don'ts for cleaning your car with a pressure washer 


  • Watch out for the initial burst of water that comes out of the pressure washer when you first turn it on. There can be a strong initial spray, so point the nozzle at the ground first.
  • Try to pressure wash the car on concrete rather than on a gravel driveway to avoid the possibility of stones flying up and hitting the paintwork.
  • Make sure all your windows are closed properly.
  • Check the interior of your car after spraying to see if any of the doors have leaking seals.


  • Use a rotary (or tornado) nozzle attachment when cleaning your car. It will be too strong and could damage paintwork.
  • Use a strong spray on areas where paint is chipped as it could strip more paint away.
  • Use a high spray setting on old tyres, as it has been known to make them explode.
  • Never spray the engine bay, the boot or the interior - unless you fancy buying a new car.
  • Point the spray directly at panel gaps for too long as these areas will be most susceptible to leaks.

Get more buying advice with our guide on How to buy the best pressure washer